As the second film of the MCU’s Phase 4, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also holds the distinction of being the first true origin story film of the MCU since 2019’s Captain Marvel.
Of course, one could argue that Black Widow was also an origin story, but we have seen Natasha since 2010’s Iron Man 2. Shang-Chi is a character we had no interaction with until now. Like a good amount of the films in the series, it showcases a character that only true comic book fans know something about (I can still remember when non fanboys like myself needed the movies to introduce the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos, Black Panther, and even Iron Man.)
With a good amount of the film being told in flashbacks, the titular rings are in the possession of Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), who is given immortality and strength when wearing the rings. On search for a village called Ta Lo, he encounters a woman (Fala Chen), and after losing to her in a fight, they eventually get married and have two kids. Wenwu has finally found a reason to live, and takes the rings off. Once we find out that Li has died, he loses all hope, and trains his son to be a warrior (his younger daughter is forced to teach herself).
Fast forward to the present, where we see one of his kids as a grown up, the titular Shang-Chi (Simu Liu). Residing in San Francisco, he works as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina, who’s way of fighting the opponent is one I will have to try now), before his father sends his foot soldiers to gather both him and his younger sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Hearing his late wife’s voice, he is convinced that she is still alive and residing in the hidden village of Ta Lo.
Funnily enough, as I was watching the film, I found myself asking “I’m a little surprised they did not bring Michelle Yeoh into the cast”. Not long after, she was there on screen (as an Aunt to the two siblings). It is refreshing to know that, over two decades after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she can still beat the daylights out of anyone in her way on screen.
The nearly all Asian cast (there is a returning character who is not) is virtually affective. Simu Liu is given the task of not only playing the first Asian American superhero in the MCU, but also doing so in his first lead role. As leading role debuts go, I would not say he knocks it out of the park, but it is a good solid line drive that will at least get him to first or second.
What was much more curious to me was to discover that the film’s director, Destin Daniel Cretton (who also has Asian ancestry), has never directed an action film before. His most recent film was 2019’s Just Mercy, with Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Before that, he also directed Larson in The Glass Castle (2017) and the 2013 film Short Term 12 (which I highly recommend). While I have not seen The Glass Castle, the other two are basic human drama, in which Cretton is able to pull out some great performances from his actors. Of course, others behind the scenes help with the fight choreography, including the late Bradley James Allan, who died just weeks before the film was released.
Parents, compared to other MCU films, Shang-Chi is relatively basic. There is obviously a lot of action, which is so fast and kinetic it takes away most of the violence. There is no sexuality in the movie either, so middle school and above would be fine.
Helping Cretton with the look of this film is cinematographer Bill Pope, who also worked on another film with epic fight sequences, The Matrix (1999). His other works include Spider-Man 2 (2004), The Jungle Book (2016), and Baby Driver (2017). In other words, Pope already knows what it is like to work on films that involve martial arts, action, superheroes, and fantasy.
It is rather fitting that he is did this film then.